If there is one fixed star in American understandings of religion it is that government should not be in charge of picking religious leaders. Religion should be self-governing and religious leaders should be chosen by their flocks. Any other arrangement would not be free.
Two stories this week provide a counterpoint to the free church model regnant in the U.S.
Reincarnations of Tibetan spiritual leaders, including the Dalai Lama, must be approved by the Chinese central government, a senior Communist Party official said. The remarks were among the clearest indications yet that China will appoint a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama after the current Dalai Lama dies, setting off a struggle with exiled leaders of the Chinese territory over Tibetan Buddhism.
Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, is embroiled in a new crisis within the Church of England over the decision to block the appointment of a gay cleric as bishop of Southwark . [...] Dr Jeffrey John, the dean of St Albans, was in the running for the senior position at Southwark until his name was leaked, enabling conservative clerics to stop the appointment. An embattled Williams has now launched an inquiry at Lambeth Palace to find out who divulged the name. [...] John’s supporters called for David Cameron to demonstrate his gay-friendly credentials by overruling the Crown Nominations Commission and insisting that John’s name be considered further. They accused the archbishop of betraying his old friend a second time.
Note that in both cases, both sides assume political involvement in the succession. Both governments claim a commitment to religious freedom. Outside of the U.S. it is often assumed that the bureaucratic role of government in such matters protects the people from the perils of charismatic leadership, among other things, and guarantees religious freedom.